Thursday, Jun 2024
Length: 384 minutes
Released: 1989

lonesome doveThe TV miniseries based on the excellent and popular western novel by Larry McMurtry. The film is a six-hour length epic which attempts to match the grand scope of the novel. Due to some excelent acting -- particularly by the two leads -- it almost does. After the book's publication and consensus of praise for this "epic" western, one critic called Lonesome Dove "the Great Cowboy Novel." Its critical praise was topped by the Pulitzer Prize. The novel is now routinely heralded as a Western classic. Why is this, since there seems to be absolutely nothing new here? The novel and its movie adaptation contain all the traditional Western cliches. How can something so seemingly predictable have struck such a chord with critics and the public? Does it herald anything significant for the future of Westerns? These issue were discussed by Elliott West in an essay in the recent book Novel History: Historians and novelists confront America's past (Simon & Schuster, 2001)West notes that, with a few exceptions, the recounting of the cattle drive in LoneSome Dove is mostly accurate. McMurtry's effort, "catches beautifully the feel of the plains at the moment, just after the national centennial, when power tipped finally and quickly from Indians to whites.

Very few have taken us as authentically into the grimy ordeal of traveling this country..." "The novel gives us as well a true feel for cowboying. Besides his own experience, McMurtry seems to have drawn heavily from two classics, Teddy Abbott's We Pointed Them North (1939), and Andy Adams' often-called non-fiction novel, The Log of a Cowboy (1903). These are both accounts of similarly long cattle drives. LoneSome Dove, West continues, "is a wonderfully entertaining set piece from the legendary terrain of the cattleman's plains. It also wrestles with the meanings, truths, and deceptions in what amounts to our national creation myth. Like most such myths, the Western is a deceptively simple story told by people with a common identity (many Americans in this case) to explain who they are and how they've come to be..." "Recently, McMurtry commented that while writing LoneSome Dove, he thought he was 'demythicizing' the West. This seems odd on the face.

The novel is a virtually full roster of the Western's most familiar characters: cowboys and Indians, Texas Rangers, nasty renegades, bumbling deputies, turned buffalo hunter turned bone-picker, a colorful cook, and an alcoholic doctor, just to name the most obvious. Its skeletal narrative, the cattle drive, is one of the Western's three essential story lines (the wagon train and the Indian war being the others). Like all Westerns, it is about men: women have no roles except as motivators and commentators. Its subplots and bits of business are the usual fare: Newt's coming of age through the tutelage of older men, for instance, and the bantering tension between two vastly different friends sealed inseparably by the passage of years." "The Western's great army of fans know these characters and situations as well as or better than they know their families. The people and plots have been grooved into their brains. These readers don't want to be surprised, except in details of the familiar plot. They expect to respond to such a story mythically --- that is, as a reiteration of patterns that feed something inside them that badly needs to be fed. The minor miracle of LoneSome Dove is that McMurtry stays squarely within the Western's form, yet with a novelist's magic, he forces his readers to break loose from what they expect. What are normally cliches . . . . become the setting for a genuinely new story. We're not sure where the story is heading because Gus and Call and most of the others are originals. McMurtry gives them humanity and inherent interest, and so it matters to us what happens to them and how the story turns out..." INDEED, on its face, it seems like the same-old-Western, but it excels because of the depth of its characters and the quality of its story. Perhaps the Western is all the same movie and its individual success depends on its characters and their particular stories. If the setting and the basic story outlines are capable of accomodating endless variations and characters, we can rest assured that the Western will never ultimately die. The impressive reception for LoneSome Dove the novel, and to just slightly lesser extent, the movie, feeds this assurance.

As with so many other great books, the movie comes up short, but not by too much. To do true justice to this sprawling tale, the film had to be a miniseries. It is most unlikely that the true characteristics of Gus and Call could have been validly fleshed-out in a feature length film -- even a long one. So the miniseries does an admirable job of presenting an epic novel. The performances of the two leads here, Duvall and Jones, playing two of the more interesting Western characters ever, are exemplary, and certainly lend much to this film's overall quality. The whole film fails if these two characters don't come across, and fortunately here they do. There are complicated, interesting Western individuals, and this miniseries gives them ample time to develope. The other acting is excellent as well, with Robert Urich's Jake Spoon being the only possible weak link. Danny Glover plays another black cowboy here as he did in Silverado, and he similarly plays it well. Overall, LoneSome Dove is a worthwhile view, and we rate it as a GOOD VIEW. But if you have the time and the option, be sure to read the book...


  • Robert Duvall.... Augustus McCrae
  • Tommy Lee Jones.... Woodrow F Call
  • Danny Glover.... Joshua Deets
  • Diane Lane.... Lorena Wood
  • Robert Urich.... Jake Spoon
  • Frederic Forrest.... Blue Duck
  • D.B. Sweeney.... Dish Boggett
  • Rick Schroder.... Newt Dobbs
  • Anjelica Huston.... Clara Allen
  • Chris Cooper.... July Johnson
  • Tim Scott ....Pea Eye Parker
  • Glenne Headly.... Elmira
  • Barry Corbin.... Roscoe Brown
  • William Sanderson... Libby Jones
  • Barry Tubb.... Jasper Fant
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